Since the 2012 election cycle, the North Carolina legislature has taken a strong stance on the environment. Unfortunately, that stance is one that increasingly seems to favor rolling back progressive environmental rules and regulations under the guise of a populist agenda of job creation and development. Not least was a bill to replace all of the members of the State Environmental Management Commission, which oversees the development new environmental rules and regulations. Students returning from summer internships out-of-state, and incoming first-year students had a lot of news to catch up on when the fall semester resumed this August.
On November 6, 2013, four legal experts came to the Duke Law School to present their thoughts on “How the North Carolina Political Environment is Affecting the Environment.” The event gave graduate students and faculty the opportunity to hear about the latest legislation affecting North Carolina’s environment. The event was organized by the Environmental Law Society, the American Constitution Society, and co-sponsored by the Duke University Greening Initiative (DUGI).
Former State Senator Eleanor Kinnaird spoke from her direct experience serving in the state legislature from 1997 to 2013. During her time in office, Kinnaird had helped to pass legislation regulating mega-landfill development in the coastal areas of the state. These regulations required landfill developers to apply for a state-level permit and to pay a fee to the North Carolina Department of the Environment and Natural Resources for landfills over a certain size threshold. Mega-landfill permits required a double-lining and a 200 foot buffer between neighboring uses, to prevent the negative externalities of leachate, smell and noise. New legislation passed in the summer session rolled back these rules, and Kinneard spoke of the likely environmental justice consequences moving forward.
Mary McClain and Brooks Pearson, attorneys at the Southern Environmental Law Center described a long list of new legislation curtailing state agencies’ ability to regulate environmental impacts. Perhaps most notably, the Regulatory Reform Act of 2013 will require all state agencies to review all rules and determine which should be revisited, and which should be eliminated. The legislature will have to re-approve rules and regulations that are revisited, and the SELC expects that this will hamper the agencies’ ability to enforce existing regulations. The SELC worked diligently to persuade state legislators against drastic rollbacks of environmental regulation, and was able to prevent the fast-track permitting for fracking that had been at the top of the conservative agenda.
Finally, Jedediah Purdy, Professor of Law at Duke University, discussed the single shining victory for the environment over the summer session: the defeat of the “Ag gag” bill. The bill would have criminalized whistle-blowing within slaughterhouses and confined feeding operations. Purdy called out the failure of the bill as a sign of hope. The panelists all noted that the interest and engagement of students in environmental issues indicate the recent rollbacks in environmental legislation and regulation will not last forever. There is now more reason than ever for Nicholas School students to be educating themselves and working towards a more sustainable environment.